In Which I Take Advice, Just in Time

I have bracketed this post with photographs of lovely spring flowers in order to distract us all from the fact that this week will go down in family history as the one where Mummy almost died from drinking lemon and ginger instead of taking antibiotics like a sensible person. Last time I noted I was going to be attempting to resolve an infected leech bite without resorting to antibiotics. Well, it almost worked. Almost. On Thursday I woke up feeling fine. The swelling on my ankle was down, the redness almost gone. Hurrah! I bounced out of bed, did some household jobs, took the dog for a walk, had a little restorative nap. Thursday night I looked at my ankle. It had developed spots, like mosquito bites.

"Leech-induced hysteria," was Posy's diagnosis. Then, "That qualifies as redness outside the line the doctor drew. I think you should go get the antibiotics."
"No," I said, "I think maybe it's something like hives. Maybe I am developing an allergy to leech bites."

By bedtime I had similar 'hives' behind my knee. At 3am I was woken by unbearable itching and more swelling. I applied aloe vera. In the morning my whole ankle was swollen and red and I noticed the 'hives' were now tracking a pathway up my leg and were halfway up my thigh. The swelling was increasing as I watched it.

Reactions from my children:
The Girl: Muuuum! That sounds like lymph node poisoning. Take the antibiotics immediately.
The Boy: If you get your leg amputated, can I have it?
Posy: No, don't let him have it, I want it.
Rosy: Get in the car and I'll take you to the Medical Centre.

So here I am, home, with my leg up, and due to the marvels of modern technology in the form of antibiotics I am not dead yet and all my limbs are intact. I was under strict instructions to return to the doctor if the swelling hadn't gone down in 24 hours, but it has, and the redness is nearly gone.

It was rather frightening though, in the first few hours after taking the antibiotics, and before they had started taking effect, watching the inexorable march of what I now know was a bacterial infection following the lymph system as it made its way up my leg straight towards all my major organs. I can't help but wonder what would have happened if that had been me one hundred years ago. Would I have been able to shake the infection off, or would it have shaken me off? A sobering thought. It seems ridiculous to be so well one day, then due to an infection, so seriously unwell the next, due to nothing but a leech bite, and yet this kind of thing happened all through history, and continues to happen everywhere now where people don't have the luxury of ready access to medical care. Frightening.

I made a little thank offering to a medical organisation which works in areas where people do not have the kind of access to to medical care that I do. It seems like an inadequate response, but it's all I can think of right now.

I think we need some more spring flowers now, to recover..

This is a miniature peach tree surrounded by self-sown primula.


Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Glad to hear that you survived your ordeal - and are slighter wiser as a result.

I am not wise, one evening I was teasing Scritchy the boss dog (a miniature fox terrier). Before I knew it, Scritchy had licked me full on in the mouth. I stopped teasing Scritchy and washed my mouth out with water. By about 2am I was violently ill and then every half hour for hours on end. It didn't stop. Ended up the next morning in the local day hospital with an anti-nausea jab and on a drip. Without treatment, organ shut down would have been only a few more hours away. It was a potent lick.

Of course nowadays I have learned, don't tease the dogs. I also keep a jar of metholayted spirits on hand to apply to all scratches (you'd be amazed how many I end up getting around here), leech bites, tick bites etc. And I also keep a strong antiseptic mouth wash for accidental close encounters of the canine kind.

If you'd carefully washed the bite with strong alcohol (like they used to do back in the day), you most likely would have been just fine.

I know of someone else who was bitten by a dog and ended up with septicemia - and they too used aloe vera for some reason (it ain't antibiotic, anti-fungal, or even anti-viral). In these enlightened times we've forgotten basic first aid. It is good to recall these lessons when there is a fall back position!

PS: Love the flowers.

Anonymous said…
"If you'd carefully washed the bite with strong alcohol (like they used to do back in the day), you most likely would have been just fine."

Except the leech had been attached to your blood stream for hours. Once bacteria etc have had the chance to enter under the skin, topical treatments don't reliably work. Disinfectants are wonderful but only kill surface bacteria. You would most likely have still needed antibiotics.

Please don't just use one method of wound care for everything. Chris makes some good points from hard won experience, (especially that people don't get taught adequate first aid training) just not that one. I have to say this because I'm your daughter and it's my job.

- The Girl
simplelife said…
Goodness Jo you don't do things by halves do you. How lucky we are to be living in these times.
How amazing though to be able to watch the bacteria move through your body in that way.
Cheers Kate
Kathy said…
Oh goodness me that is shocking...lesson time take the never can be too careful. Glad things are settling down now for you. Those leeches are horrible things..and what about ticks with lime disease...those little things can cause havoc. Take care.
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi 'The Girl',

Thanks for the correction.

The story reminded me that a few years back leeches and ticks had invaded my strawberry patch. I was candidly scared to go in there (and have since dismantled that garden bed). It is hard to feel leech bites, and yeah if not removed correctly they can leave little chunks of their mouths under your skin. I used to burn them off with matches and/or salt - both of which seemed to work well. Ticks have to be removed with fine tweezers and a well practiced lifting motion (the dogs get them).

My understanding of the leeches and ticks in the Victorian central highlands is that they are mostly benign, but your mothers trailblazing efforts (nobody wants to be a trailblazer) is a timely lesson. I've heard that spider bites can produce a similar effect - and there are lots of arachnid's here. I guess it all depends on what the little critters had previously been dining upon.


Jo said…
Chris, I remember that story! It amazes me that so many people actually remained alive before the advent of antibiotics, when a simple dog lick or leech bite could carry you off if said dog or leech had been imbibing something particularly nasty before it got to you. Another day and the dog lick and leech bite would have been completely benign.
And yes, thorough disinfecting of all wounds will be high on my list of things to remember in the future. Can't hurt. Actually, I doused the leech bite with lavender oil and eucalyptus oil when it started swelling - two days after the bite, a bit late, and obviously not going to tackle internal bacteria. Although I did think that being essential oils they might penetrate into the skin a little..

My dear Girl, you are so right. Also, I have two first aid manuals in the house, and have never read either of them. I think one of the things anitbiotics have done for us is make us careless, because they can fix everything. Except now suddenly they can't, always. I would be very interested to know if there was indeed some alternative form of treatment for bacterial infection, other than sudden death.. I promise I won't try it if antibiotics are available, but I'm just wondering, because that might be useful information to know..

Kate, 'amazing' wasn't the word I would have chosen, so much as 'a little bit terrifying'..

Kathy, while we have to deal with leeches here in Tas, I am pretty sure we don't have Lyme disease here. Yet. But yes, that would be another thing to worry about for you folks up north, and not easily dealt with, either.

simplelife said…
Maybe it was amazing as it wasn't happening to me, definitely would have been terrified if it was happening to me
Anonymous said…
Beyond frightening. I do a lot of yard work and am constantly getting small cuts, and scrapes. As a general rule I do (a la Chris) douse all cuts with alcohol when I come in. Mainly for prevention...just in case.
I am glad you are doing better, with limb, and spirit intact!
Take care, Jo!
Treaders said…
It's amazing how life can turn on a dime isn't it. A colleague of mine's daughter was on holiday in Greece a few years ago and became ill. They believed it was sunstroke but when she didn't get better after 48 hours they took her to the hospital. Turned out to be meningacoccal meningitis (sp?). It could have been treated with antibiotics pretty easily if they had recognized it quickly. Sadly they didn't and she died 4 days later. One minute you're ok and the next you're not! So glad your daughter "bullied" you into getting treatment!
Hazel M said…
Wow, thank goodness for antibiotics (and daughters)! That sounds like a very nasty experience, and I'm so glad you are still with us to write another blog. I've heard that oregano oil, taken internally, acts like an antibiotic, but I probably wouldn't want to bet my life on it. I suppose that, in the past, if you survived childhood, you had probably developed an immunity to the local bugs. And life was very local, unless you were a sailor or trader. Stay well!
Jo said…
Kate, I am sure I would have been fascinated if it was happening to someone else:)

Patricia, I always used to make sure I was up to date with my tetanus shots as I am always messing about in the garden with thorns and manure. I am thinking I will go and get another one now..
Re alcohol - Paul's thoughts on alternative antibiotics is that drinking a lot of brandy would surely help:)

Anna, it seems there is always some dread disease stalking us. Meningococcal is one of those that parents of this generation have learned to dread. The terrible thing for a parent in that situation is the lifelong question, "What if..?" What if we had known more about it? What if we had got medical help sooner? What if.. Dreadful.

Hazel, I am thankful for both antibiotics and daughters, yes:) re oregano oil, if you mean the essential oil, I do know that it is quite dangerous to take essential oils internally as they are so concentrated. Mind you, that is maybe exactly what you'd want in such a situation. However I'd want to be doing that under the care of someone who definitely knew what they were doing. So many studies are being done on all sorts of plants to find out what useful compounds are in them. I read these sorts of things all the time, think 'How fascinating!" then promptly forget what I have read. I would like to do some proper study on herbalism and get some basic understanding of how to use what I grow without putting myself or anyone else at risk.
Anonymous said…
I hope that your recovery this time goes without a hitch. I think you have given all of us a little reminder that we need to look after ourselves!

Linda in NZ
Jo said…
Linda, all well so far - I'm bouncing around again, after being sat on my backside for one reason or another for far too long. Now to get some things done!
sustainablemum said…
Thank goodness for antibiotics indeed. So glad to hear that you are on the mend now and that they are doing their job. It is important that we look after ourselves isn't it, although it is so easy to forget that.
Anonymous said…
Silly Billy. Take the bloody antibiotics. There’s s big difference between overuse (ie when there’s no inflection) and when you have an infection. Anyway, glad that you did. OK, I know I’m very mainstream but no one calls for ginger tea or an aromatherapist when there’s been a car accident or heart failure or a infection. Do you know that bayonets in WWI had grooves down the side to let in air as the infection would kill when the stabbing didn’t. After antibiotics were invented they never bothered making bayonets like that again. Antibiotics, while overused by many, are awesome things. We get complacent about infections as we think they are all easy to deal with as we’ve grown up with the power of antibiotics.

Anyway, off my soap box now.

Interesting though that a leech can do this.


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